Chronological Encyclopedia of Discoveries in Space cover

After being in print for twenty years, the Chronological Encyclopedia of Discoveries in Space, covering everything that was learned on every single space mission in the 20th century, has finally gone out of print.

I presently have my last four hardback copies available for sale. The book sold new for about $90. To get your own autographed copy of this now rare collector's item, please send a $120 check (which includes shipping) payable to Robert Zimmerman to

Behind The Black, c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652

"Useful to space buffs and generalists, comprehensive but readable, Bob Zimmerman's Encyclopedia belongs front and center on everyone's bookshelf." -- Mike Collins, Apollo 11 astronaut


"The Chronological Encylopedia of Discoveries in Space is no passionless compendium of information. Robert Zimmerman's fact-filled reports, which cover virtually every spacecraft or probe to have ventured into the heavens, relate the scientific and technical adventure of space exploration enthusiastically and with authority." -- American Scientist

IHME lowers its death prediction for Wuhan virus again

In what appears to be becoming an almost twice-weekly event, the scientists who created the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) model that the White House has been depending on to deal with the Wuhan flu epidemic have once again lowered their projected total deaths from COVID-19, from about 82,000 to 61,000.

Wednesday’s dramatic reverse in the model’s projection of U.S. deaths was made without a press release from IHME explaining the reasons for the reduction. It marks the second reduction in the model’s U.S. deaths projections since April 1, when it forecast 93,765 U.S. fatalities.

On April 5, the death projections were lowered to 81,766.

Our estimates assume statewide social distancing measures are continuing in states where they have already been enacted, and for those states without such measures in place, it is assumed they will be will be in place within seven days,” IHME director Christopher Murray said on April 5. [emphasis mine]

Murray’s highlighted statement above gives the impression that these new lower numbers are because of the imposed “social distancing measures.” This is a lie. All their predictions, even their highest, always included such measures. Thus, their earlier predictions were simply wrong, and very badly wrong.

In only a week they have dropped their prediction by one third.

I must add that this is the same model that has vastly over-estimated the number of hospitalizations that would occur, to the point of absurdity. Instead of having so many coronavirus patients that hospitals were overwhelmed, hospitals have had numerous empty beds, even in New York.

If the deaths from the Wuhan flu end up around 61,000, that number will match exactly the number of total deaths during the 2017-2018 flu season. Remember how we shut down the entire economy then too? I don’t.

I will also make a prediction. The final numbers will still be far lower than the 61,000 they are now predicting, even though there is clear evidence that many states are exaggerating the number of Wuhan flu deaths, probably in order to justify their panic that has shutdown the country and is bankrupting millions. In the end, even with these overstated numbers, the totals (including the flu) will I bet end up not much more than a somewhat bad flu season, but not one far different than 2017-2018, the worst in many years.

If the voters don’t fire a lot of politicians come November for this disgusting travesty, then we are surely doomed to bankruptcy and tyranny in future years.


Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs." --San Antonio Express-News

A river canyon on Mars?

Cool image time! In the most recent download of new images from the high resolution camera of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) were two photos, found here and here, that struck me as very intriguing. Both were titled simply as a “Terrain Sample” image, which generally means the picture was taken not because of any specific request by another scientist doing specific research but because the camera team needs to take an image to maintain the camera’s proper temperature, and in doing so they try to time it so that they can do some random exploring as well.

As it turned out, the two images were more than simply random, as they both covered different parts of the same Martian feature, what looks like a branching dry dendritic river drainage. Below is a mosaic of those two images, fit together as one image, with a wider context image to the right, taken by Mars Odyssey, showing the entire drainage plus the surrounding landscape with the white arrow added to help indicate the drainage’s location.
» Read more


Universe’s expansion rate found to differ in different directions

The uncertainty of science: Using data from two space telescopes, astronomers have found that the universe’s expansion rate appears to differ depending on the direction you look.

This latest test uses a powerful, novel and independent technique. It capitalizes on the relationship between the temperature of the hot gas pervading a galaxy cluster and the amount of X-rays it produces, known as the cluster’s X-ray luminosity. The higher the temperature of the gas in a cluster, the higher the X-ray luminosity is. Once the temperature of the cluster gas is measured, the X-ray luminosity can be estimated. This method is independent of cosmological quantities, including the expansion speed of the universe.

Once they estimated the X-ray luminosities of their clusters using this technique, scientists then calculated luminosities using a different method that does depend on cosmological quantities, including the universe’s expansion speed. The results gave the researchers apparent expansion speeds across the whole sky — revealing that the universe appears to be moving away from us faster in some directions than others.

The team also compared this work with studies from other groups that have found indications of a lack of isotropy using different techniques. They found good agreement on the direction of the lowest expansion rate.

More information here.

The other research mentioned in the last paragraph in the quote above describes results posted here in December. For some reason that research did not get the publicity of today’s research, possibly because it had not yet been confirmed by others. It now has.

What this research tells us, most of all, is that dark energy, the mysterious force that is theorized to cause the universe’s expansion rate to accelerate — not slow down as you would expect– might not exist.

Update: I’ve decided to embed, below the fold, the very clear explanatory video made by one of the scientists doing that other research. Very helpful in explaining this very knotty science.


Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit.

Comet ATLAS appears to be breaking apart

Comet ATLAS, which astronomer hope could be the brightest comet in decades, is unfortunately showing evidence of breaking up, which if so could short circuit any spectacular comet show.

In a recent Astronomical Telegram, astronomers Quanzhi Ye (University of Maryland) and Qicheng Zhang (Caltech) report that photographs taken on April 2nd and April 5th of the comet revealed a marked change in the appearance of its core or pseudo-nucleus from starlike and compact to elongated and fuzzy. A second team of astronomers led by I. A. Steele (Liverpool John Moores University) confirmed the discovery. This change in appearance is “consistent with a sudden decline or cessation of dust production, as would be expected from a major disruption of the nucleus,” wrote Zhang and Ye.

An elongated nucleus is often a bad sign and could mean the comet’s headed for disintegration much like what happened to Comet Elenin (C/2010 X1) prior to its September 2011 perihelion passage when its core crumbled and the object rapidly dissipated. Addition evidence of ATLAS’s breakup comes from an unexpected shift in the direction of its orbital motion caused by “non-gravitational” forces. Fragmentation exposes fresh ice to sunlight which quickly vaporizes. The expanding gases act like a natural rocket engine and gently push the comet from its appointed path.

The article outlines in detail how bright ATLAS could become, because of its size and orbit and proximity to Earth as it passes closest to the Sun in late May. Assuming it does not disintegrate, it could end up brighter than Venus. Or not. Predicting the eventual brightness of a newly discovered comet is more guesswork than science. That the comet might be falling apart suggests its eventually brightness will be less that hoped.


Wuhan panic causes Space Force to delay launch

The Space Force yesterday announced that it is delaying the April launch by SpaceX of a GPS satellite until June, though they say in their announcement that they also still intend to get all three GPS launches off this year, as originally planned.

It seems they decided that since the in-orbit constellation is operating well, with lots of redundancy, they could afford to wait two months to launch this new upgraded GPS satellite.


Leaving Earth cover

In March I obtained from my former publisher the last 30 copies of the now out-of-print hardback of Leaving Earth. I quickly sold 10, and with only 20 left in stock I am raising the price. To get your own autographed copy of this rare collector's item please send a $75 check (includes $5 shipping) payable to Robert Zimmerman to

Behind The Black, c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652

I will likely raise the price again when only ten books are left, so buy them now at this price while you still can!

  Also available as an inexpensive ebook!

Leaving Earth: Space Stations, Rival Superpowers, and the Quest for Interplanetary Travel, is now available as an ebook everywhere for only $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit.


Winner of the 2003 Eugene M. Emme Award of the American Astronautical Society.

"Leaving Earth is one of the best and certainly the most comprehensive summary of our drive into space that I have ever read. It will be invaluable to future scholars because it will tell them how the next chapter of human history opened." -- Arthur C. Clarke

Lost freedoms and media lies

The panic over the Wuhan virus is clearly doing irreparable harm to our freedoms. And worse, the loss of those freedoms is being celebrated and supported by the press, the very people who should be acting to protect them, for their own sake if not ours.

Consider for example this article, which documents how four of the ten rights in the Bill of Rights have been tossed out the window during the government imposed lockdowns over the Wuhan flu. It also notes that a more basic right, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, has been cancelled as well.

While this right is not listed in the Bill of Rights and instead appears in the Declaration of Independence, it covers all of our rights in a general sense and should be considered under attack. I have heard from friends who have been stopped at the border of their state and turned back by police; people with out-of-state plates turned away from grocery stores over the border that have supplies they need and can’t get in their own state; and people whose livelihoods are being destroyed by government edicts with no end date in sight. [emphasis mine]

As the author also notes, “anyone who has studied human history knows the ‘temporary’ loss of human rights is rarely temporary.”

The worst part of this article however is the incompleteness of the list of civil rights abuses. Consider these for example:
» Read more


Weird flat plateau on Mars

Weird flat plateau on Mars
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The image to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, was taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on December 15, 2020, and was actually a follow-up observation from an earlier image taken by the camera on Europe’s Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), according to Dr. Livio Tornabene of the University of Western Ontario. As he explained in an email:

The team is rather polarized with their verdict on what exactly the feature is… while at first glance it appears to be a lava flow, it very well could be that these deposits eroded to yield this flow/lobate like appearance and isn’t lava at all. So as someone that is both involved with [TGO] and [MRO], I noticed that the lobate feature causing quite the debate had no coverage from [MRO].

It appears that some scientists think that instead of lava, this is a mud flow. Research presented [pdf] during the 2019 Lunar & Planetary Conference in Texas found evidence that mud could flow like lava under the right conditions.

At this point neither Tornabene nor anyone working on the TGO team have yet analyzed this new MRO image to see if they can answer this question. That this feature is located in a region just to the southeast of Marineris Valles where there is evidence both of volcanic activity and sedimentary deposition, makes answering the question even more challenging.

The data from TGO indicated [pdf] that the plateau was about 30 to 65 feet thick. Based on crater counts the age is thought to be between 1.6 to 1.9 billion years old.

What struck me about the plateau is that though it really does look like a flow, it also appears remarkably flat and smooth. Even more puzzling is that, according to the TGO paper, the plateau slopes downhill very gently (a 1% grade) to the south, not to the north as suggested by the shape of the flow. Maybe later geological events tilted the entire feature after it solidified, thus changing the grade?

Meanwhile that channel near the bottom of the image crosses through the grade and the flow, as if it was cut after the flow was placed. In other words, the flow and channel were formed separately, at different times.

Ah, the mysteries of planetary geology. If only we could just go there with a geologist’s hammer. These questions would then be so much more simple to answer.


The 50th anniversary of Apollo 13

Today NASA announced its plans to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the launch of Apollo 13 on April 11, the only Apollo mission to fail in its goal of landing on the Moon while also proving that the engineering design of Apollo was brilliant, making possible under dire conditions the safe return to Earth of the astronauts.

While en route to the Moon on April 13, an oxygen tank in the Apollo service module ruptured. The lunar landing and moonwalks, which would have been executed by Lovell and Haise, were aborted as a dedicated team of flight controllers and engineering experts in the Apollo Mission Control Center devoted their efforts to developing a plan to shelter the crew in the lunar module as a “lifeboat” and retain sufficient resources to bring the spacecraft and its crew back home safely. Splashdown occurred in the Pacific Ocean at 1:07 p.m. April 17, after a flight that lasted five days, 22 hours and 54 minutes.

NASA is celebrating this anniversary in many virtual ways, though all public in-person events have been cancelled due to the Wuhan panic.

Below is a video showing the covered on CBS (Hat tip reader Mike Nelson).

The visuals are not great, partly because it was broadcast on an analog television, and partly because it appears to be a recording taken by a camera looking at that broadcast. At several points it appears the television loses vertical hold (a problem typical of early televisions). Still, it is worth watching simply to see how news organizations covered such events then, in comparison to today.

If you want to spend some time of your Wuhan house arrest watching more, the video automatically jumps to later videos of CBS’s coverage, including the moment the failure occurred as well as the splashdown. I will post these next week, on the fiftieth anniversary of each event.


Russia hostile to Trump declaration to promote private enterprise in space

Russia today issued the first international response to the Trump executive order yesterday calling for private enterprise and property in space, and that response was decidedly negative.

Attempts to seize the territories of other planets are harmful to international cooperation, Deputy Director General of Roscosmos for International Cooperation Sergey Saveliev said on Tuesday. “Attempts to expropriate outer space and aggressive plans to actually seize territories of other planets hardly set the countries for fruitful cooperation,” Saveliev said.

He recalled that there were examples in history when one country decided to start seizing territories in its interests. “Everyone remembers what came of it,” Saveliev added.

Part of the goal of Trump’s order was to try to garner international support for the idea of allowing private property in space. The Russian response today suggests that they will not go along, and instead will use the words of the Outer Space Treaty to block such rights.

As I have been saying for years, the real solution is to pull out of the treaty. It forbids us from establishing our laws anywhere in space, which means future space-farers will be second class citizens, with their only rights determined by the UN, not the Bill of Rights.


Big sections break off of interstellar Comet 2I/Borisov

The uncertainty of science: New observations of the interstellar Comet 2I/Borisov as it exits our solar system indicate that large fragments have recently broken from it, and that the comet might possibly be on the verge of breaking up.

Astronomers have seen evidence of two fragments, but the data suggests these are relatively small compared to the entire comet. On the other hand,

Before perihelion, Jewitt’s analysis of Hubble images showed that Comet Borisov is much smaller than had been thought. The comet’s nucleus is not directly visible, but in the January 10th Astrophysical Journal Letters, Jewitt put its diameter between 0.4 and 1 kilometer. That’s small enough that solar vaporization of surface ices on the side facing the Sun could spin up its rotation beyond gravity’s ability to hold it together.

However, the comet’s size is tricky to estimate, as its surface appears to be emitting so much gas and dust that it obscures the nucleus. The fragment that Jewitt observed is about as bright as the comet itself, but because its surface is so icy and active, he thinks the fragment’s mass is less than 1% of the whole comet. That would make the split more like a side mirror dropping off a car than a car falling apart. Why the fragment split from the comet is unclear, but possibilities include thermal vaporization after new material was exposed, as well as the force from the comet’s spin if it’s spinning as fast as Jewitt suggests.

Whether the comet is about to break up remains unknown. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone was racing to put a mission together to visit it?


Boeing to do second unmanned test flight of Starliner

Capitalism in space: Boeing officials said yesterday that they now plan a second unmanned demo mission to ISS of their Starliner manned capsule in order to make sure they have cleared up all the issues that plagued the first unmanned flight in December.

The company on Monday confirmed a report in the Washington Post that it will fly a second uncrewed demonstration mission — which Boeing calls an Orbital Flight Test — before astronauts ride a Starliner into orbit.

“We have chosen to refly our Orbital Flight Test to demonstrate the quality of the Starliner system,” Boeing said in a statement Monay. “Flying another uncrewed flight will allow us to complete all flight test objectives and evaluate the performance of the second Starliner vehicle at no cost to the taxpayer. We will then proceed to the tremendous responsibility and privilege of flying astronauts to the International Space Station.”

Right now they are aiming for an October/November launch date.


Trump signs executive order supporting private ownership in space

President Trump today signed a new executive order reiterating the United States’ support for private enterprise in space, including the ownership of any resources mined or obtained from other orbiting bodies, such as the Moon and the asteroids.

The text of the order is here. It acts to underline previous laws passed by Congress supporting private ownership in space. It also does three things:

1. It makes it very clear that the U.S. will oppose any effort by the international community to impose the Moon Treaty in space. This U.N. law, which is not the Outer Space Treaty that has governed space since 1967, was never ratified by the U.S., and in fact was only signed by seventeen countries. Its provisions were hostile to private property and private enterprise, essentially making both impossible in space. Thus, today’s executive order states:

The United States is not a party to the Moon Agreement. Further, the United States does not consider the Moon Agreement to be an effective or necessary instrument to guide nation states regarding the promotion of commercial participation in the long-term exploration, scientific discovery, and use of the Moon, Mars, or other celestial bodies. Accordingly, the Secretary of State shall object to any attempt by any other state or international organization to treat the Moon Agreement as reflecting or otherwise expressing customary international law.

2. The order re-emphasized the U.S.’s commitment to allowing private companies to retain ownership of any resources they mine from other worlds. Though the Outer Space Treaty appears to allow this, there is some uncertainty, and because that treaty also forbids nations from claiming any territory to establish their sovereignty and laws upon that territory, establishing the ownership of mining resources under U.S. law remains unsure. Today’s order essentially states that U.S. law will apply to those resources:

Americans should have the right to engage in commercial exploration, recovery, and use of resources in outer space, consistent with applicable law. Outer space is a legally and physically unique domain of human activity, and the United States does not view it as a global commons. Accordingly, it shall be the policy of the United States to encourage international support for the public and private recovery and use of resources in outer space, consistent with applicable law.

3. The order makes clear that the U.S. will use all of its influence to convince all other space-faring nations to agree to this approach.

This last item might be the most important. If the Trump administration can convince all other nations to some new approach that allows for private property in space, the difficulties created by the Outer Space Treaty might be bypassed.


COVID-19 model predictions continue to be too high

Two stories off the wire today illustrate again the overheated and over-stated predictions of the computer models being used by federal and government officials are simply wrong.

The first prediction resulted in a panic that caused hospitals nationwide to cease all “non-essential” medical procedures out of fear they would overwhelmed with serious Wuhan virus sufferers. Instead, hospitals sit empty with little activity and some have had to cut staff and hours because the loss of the income from those “non-essential” procedures is bankrupting them. And in New York, the worst hit state, the model was four times too high:

The model projected that New York would need 65,400 hospital beds by April 4, but only 15,905 were actually used, according to former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson.

The second story reports that the IHME model that the White House and state governors have been relying on to justify shutting down the entire U.S. economy, bankrupting millions of small businesses, and putting millions of people out of work, has reduced its prediction for deaths from COVID-19 from about 93,000 to about 82,000, a number is still certainly too high based on the actual deaths so far. Earlier they were claiming hundreds of thousands could die.

Meanwhile, policy nationwide has been based on the assumption, clearly stated by Dr. Deborah Birx, head of the White House coronavirus task force, that “No state, no metro area, will be spared.”

The numbers however make this statement seem absurd. This state-by-state analysis today shows that the bulk of the problem is focused in the New York metropolitan area:

Thus, we can ascertain by these numbers that 53% of all U.S. Coronavirus deaths are coming from the two states of New York and New Jersey.

…If you throw out the numbers for the top five and bottom five states, removing the extreme highs and lows – the other 40 U.S. states (including Puerto Rico) will have suffered an average of 70 deaths from Coronavirus.

In other words, we have allowed our politicians to bankrupt us over an illness that has killed so few people in most of the country (most of which were aged and likely very sick already) that the numbers could almost have been considered rounding errors.


Changing Mars

The maculae splotch dubbed Maui
For the full images click here (2019) and here (2020).

While Mars appears to be a dead planet, with no clear evidence of life so far discovered, the planet is hardly inactive. Things are changing there continuously, even if it happens at a slower pace than here on Earth.

To the right are two images, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, taken by the high resolution camera of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The first was on January 19, 2019, shortly after the end of the global dust storm that engulfed Mars during that Martian year. The second was taken on February 14, 2020, half a Martian year later. Both show one of a string of dark splotches located on the western flanks of the giant volcano Olympus Mons. Scientists call these splotches maculae, and because of their superficial resemblance to the islands of Hawaii, have given them names matching those islands. This particular patch is dubbed Maui. Below is a map showing all the splotches and their position relative to Olympus Mons, taken from a 2019 presentation [pdf].
» Read more


NOAA’s prediction for the next solar maximum

Last week NOAA introduced a newly revamped graph for tracking the monthly activity of sunspots on the Sun’s visible hemisphere. (You can see an example of the old graph, used by them for more than fifteen years, here.)

In order to properly understand the context of future sunspot activity, it is important to understand how the new graph aligns with the old. My first attempt to do so in my April 3, 2020 sunspot update, unfortunately was a failure. While most of my conclusions in that update remain correct, my attempt to place NOAA’s prediction for the next solar cycle on my graph was in error.

I had not realized that NOAA had changed its sunspot number scale on the graph’s vertical axis. In their old graph they had used the monthly sunspot number count from the Royal Observatory of Belgium. The new graph instead used the sunspot number from NOAA’s own Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC). Both numbers are creditable, but the solar scientist community has switched entirely to the latter in the past few years because they consider its criteria for determining the count across all past cycles to be more accurate.

The Belgium numbers have traditionally been about one third lower than SWPC’s. Not realizing that NOAA’s new prediction was based on the SWPC numbers, I therefore placed it on the graph using the Belgium numbers and thus made the peak of the solar maximum 33% too high.

Below is NOAA’s new graph, annotated properly with both the past and new solar cycle predictions added now correctly.
» Read more


Astra furloughs and lays off a fifth of its workforce

The smallsat rocket company Astra Space recently reduced its workforce from 150 to 120, with most of those let go furloughed for three months during the Wuhan flu panic with some laid off entirely.

This reduction appears due mostly because of the panic, as it has killed their efforts to raise more investment capital. However, the “anomaly” that caused the complete loss of a rocket during countdown a few weeks ago might also have contributed. According to this article, which gives some more details of that “anomaly,” which apparently was a fire that destroyed the rocket, caused by “an unfortunate mistake.”


China tests parachutes to control 1st stage

During China’s Long March 3B launch on March 9, engineers tested the use of parachutes and “control devices” on the rocket’s first stage in order to better position the stage’s crash.

After the booster separated from the rocket, the parachutes opened in a sequence to control its attitude and direction, and data of the fall trajectory and landing site were sent to ground control in Xichang, southwest China’s Sichuan Province.

…It took just 25 minutes for staff to find the debris, compared to hours or up to a fortnight previously, [according to the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT)].

The article from China’s state-run press at the link also bragged that they have been working on this new technology for a decade. That I think is a lie. The Long March 3B was developed in the 1990s and, until SpaceX successfully proved it possible to land a first stage in 2015, there was no hint they were doing anything to protect their citizens from crashing first stages.

Only in the past years have they performed any tests of such technology, including grid fins that appeared clearly stolen from SpaceX’s design. It is good that they are finally doing this, but their lack of interest in protecting their own citizens beforehand tells us quite a lot of both Chinese culture and the communist/socialist/fascist dictatorship that leads it.


More evidence that U.S. health system is not being overwhelmed by COVID-19

In an article today in the National Review focused on a lot of good coronavirus news the past week, a number stories jumped out at me, mostly focused on the surplus hospital beds available in the states of Florida, New Jersey, Washington, Maryland, Vermont, Ohio, Utah, and in southern Arizona, and in the cities of Dallas, St. Louis, San Francisco, and Orange County.

In other words, my conclusion earlier this week that the U.S. hospital system was not going to be overwhelmed by COVID-19 is proving to be true. Even in New York, which appears to have the biggest problem, they have arranged with twenty hotels to convert rooms for hospital care.

Much of this surplus is unfortunately caused by the forced lockdowns that have forbidden hospitals to do any elective surgeries (with “elective” sometimes defined so broadly that they have caused some hospitals to cut staff and hours) as well as the too-high predictions that have probably caused them to plan for more beds than they will need.

Nonetheless, these surpluses are good news.

Meanwhile, the daily death toll rose significantly today in the U.S., reaching almost 1,500, after several days where it appeared to have stabilized around 1,000. This rise is not unexpected, and further rises will also not be a surprise. The moment of truth however will be when it begins to drop, which should probably happen in less than two weeks. When that happens, we will then finally be able to get a realistic estimate of the total mortality from COVID-19.

I will add that based on the numbers of actual deaths so far in the U.S., it still appears to me that the prediction of between 100,000 to 240,000 U.S. deaths by Trump’s experts is going to be much too high, and very very wrong.


Trump fires inspector general who sparked fake Ukraine whistleblower complaint

Maybe the house-cleaning is finally beginning? President Trump today fired Michael Atkinson, the inspector general covering the intelligence agencies who approved the fake Ukraine whistleblower complaint that the Democrats used to justify their impeachment of the President.

I call that whistleblower’s complaint fake because 1) he wasn’t party to the phonecall in which he accused Trump of misbehavior, 2) the transcripts of the call itself showed none of the misbehavior he claimed, and 3) he was never willing to testify publicly to his accusation. Instead, he ran and hid.

It was pure fraud, a political hit job by Atkinson and the Democrats. Note too that there were indications that Atkinson, who was as an inspector general supposed to be independent of partisan politics, worked closely with the House Democrats to shape the whistleblower’s accusation.

Corrupt through and through. He should have been fired six months ago, especially because the impeachment chain of events he started tried to overthrow a legally elected president.


Sunspot update: tiny uptick in March activity

UPDATE: In doing some analysis and prep work for future updates, I have discovered that the graph below is in error in its placement of the prediction for the next solar maximum in 2025. I have revised the graph below to note the error. On April 6, 2020 I posted an updated graph.

My original post:
This week NOAA unveiled a major revamping of the graph it has used for the past decade-plus to show the monthly progression of the sunspot cycle, and that I have been using since the start of this website to do my monthly sunspot updates.

Overall they did a very nice job. The new graph not only shows the present state of the cycle, but it allows you to zoom in or out on this cycle as well as all sunspot cycles going back to 1750, about the time the sunspot cycle was first recognized and the sunspot count became reliable.

The new graph also includes a new more precise prediction for the upcoming solar cycle, forecasting the peak in 2025, higher than the weak solar maximum that has just passed. I have taken the old graph (see my last update on March 12, 2020) and revised it to place this new prediction in context with the previous cycle. I have also added the March sunspot numbers to it.
» Read more


Russia confirms launch delay to 2021 of Nauka module to ISS

Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russia’s space agency Roscomos, confirmed yesterday that the launch of its Nauka module for ISS will not occur in 2020.

In January they had hinted that the mission would be delayed to early 2021.

Construction of Nauka had begun in 1995, twenty-five years ago, which in a sense puts it in the lead for the most dismal government space project, beating out the James Webb Space Telescope (about 21 years since first proposed) and the Space Launch System (16 years since Bush proposed it). All three now say they will launch in 2021 but no one should be criticized if they doubt this.


Third Starship prototype collapses during tank pressure test

During the final part of a tank pressure test the third SpaceX Starship prototype apparently collapsed, its outer welded hull failing.

Video below the fold. The prototype is on the right, and it appears it fall inward along its hull welds.

The SN3 (Serial Number 3) vehicle incorporated lessons learned from previous vehicles and test articles, and took advantage of improved manufacturing techniques and expanded facilities at SpaceX’s South Texas launch facility.

The next round of testing began this week with cryogenic proof testing. These tests saw the vehicle filled with liquid nitrogen at cryogenic temperatures and flight pressures. Proof testing began in Thursday and continued through to Friday morning when SN3 failed during what appeared to be the end of the test.

With Elon Musk noting “we will see what data review says in the morning, but this may have been a test configuration mistake,” on Twitter and the first-look observations, the fault may have been related to detanking, rather than another failure under pressure.

I’m no engineer, so I wonder how detanking could cause such a failure.
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Predictions four to eleven times higher than actual COVID-19 hospitalizations

Garbage in, garbage out: The computer models being used by hospitals and government authorities to justify the shutdown of the entire American economy have routinely been way too high, four to eleven times higher than the actual numbers.

The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which owns and has been cited by the Trump administration, is getting called out for promulgating COVID-19 projections that turn out to be far too high. The institute’s projections are treated as the gold standard by several American hospital systems and state governments, according to its website, which warns that the demand for “ventilators, general hospital beds, and ICU beds” are “expected to exceed capacity.”

Yet it overestimated by four times how many hospitalizations would happen in New York State on one day this week, already accounting for the “lockdown” in the state, according to former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson

For example, the Institute predicted that on April 1 New York would have 50,000 hospitalizations. It only has 12,000. Similarly,

The Federalist co-founder Sean Davis noted similar overestimation on a national level, saying the UW model is using New York and New Jersey data – the epicenter of the epidemic – “and applying it to the rest of the U.S.”

This “garbage” model estimated 121,000 hospitalizations Wednesday, about four times higher than the actual number, he said, delving into more wild divergences between projections and results state-by-state. Tennessee and Texas projections were particularly off, at 11 and nine times higher than actually resulted, while Virginia’s was the closest at only two times higher. [emphasis mine]

For any model to be that badly off in only a week indicates it is total garbage, entirely divorced from reality and more a political document expressing the desires of those who wrote it.

But we’re all gonna die! We’ve got to do something! We’ve got to assume bad things so we can justify our actions!


Skiing dry ice boulders on Mars

Dune slope, with grooves, in Russell Crater
Click for full image.

Cool image and video time! The image to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, shows something that when I spotted it in reviewing the newest image download from the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), I found it very baffling. The photo was taken on March 3, 2020, and shows an incredible number of linear groves on the slope of a large dune inside Russell Crater, located in the Martian southern highlands at about 54 degrees south latitude.

If these were created by boulders we should see them at the bottom of each groove. Instead, the grooves generally seem to peter out as if the boulder rolling down the slope had vanished. Making this even more unlikely is that the top of the slope simply does not have sufficient boulders to make all these groves.

The image was requested by Dr. Candice Hansen of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, who when I emailed her in bafflement she responded like so:
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